High School Musical 2
High School Musical 2High School Musical 2 was on the whole, as expected, a pretty big dropoff from the original movie. It was gonna be difficult to capture the kind of quirky, infectious charm the original film had, but there were several missteps along the way that impeded it here.
First and foremost there was way too much Sharpay and entirely not enough Gabriella. Tellingly, Gabriella's solo number "Gotta Go My Own Way" was in my opinion the best song in the film while Sharpa's solo number "Fabulous" was, in my opinion, by far the worst. Ashely Tisdale can't REALLY be faulted here cause she plays it the same she played it in the original HSM but over the course of a full move it really starts to grate. She really needed to tone it down given the greatly increased scope of the role. And what was with the lack of Gabriella? I would liked to have seen more scenes showing her pain of losing Troy and even some more scenes with her and Troy together, though I realize that the mechanics of the plot complicate this somewhat.
On that note, I thought everybody in the movie was being very unfair to Troy. The basic message of this movie is, what, don't forget your friends? Success means nothing if you have to step on your friends to get there? But, come on, Troy was being heavily recruited by what was, apparently, an excellent college basketball program. His teammates should have been incredibly stoked for him. But they were mad that he ditched their 2 on 2 game and mad that he didn't invite them to the college practice. A real friend would have been thrilled for Troy there, and I was shocked that when Troy and Chad reunited at the end this wasn't addressed. I thought that Chad was being very unfair to Troy and I really feel it was sending the wrong message. Friends should be supportive of each other! Similarly, he was offered a nice, cushy job. What was he supposed to do, turn it down to keep working with his friends? I'm sorry, that's not the way the world works and I highly doubt any of his friends would not have taken the same route he did. Gabriella did, indeed have legitimate beefs with him. He stood her up twice and ditched her in the talent show to sing with Sharpay. Though those are bad indeed, I wish the movie had better acknowledged the incredibly awkward and uncomfortable position Sharpay had put him in.
I guess my main problem, as highlighted by that previous paragraph, is that they didn't devote enough time to the mechanics of the plot. Everything had to be super rushed along so they had more time for Sharpay and non-story advancing songs, which meant the character motivations made no sense. I mean, they basically just said that Troy was being a jerk to his team, so I have to take their word for it, but the facts I saw on the screen did not support it. And, hmm, Ryan doesn't have a song and neither does Chad. I know, I'll give them a completely random duet. I know it's difficult to manage a cast of this size, but everything seemed oddly patched together and it seemed like they were straining to allocate enough time to the supporting roles.
The ending of the movie was genuinely emotional and uplifting, and I can't take that away. It was what it was. However, it was very rushed and I feel like the movie didn't "earn" it. There was no motivation or justification for Troy and Gabriella getting back together. All it would have taken would have been one scene with Gabriella, where she realizes she really loves Troy after all and blah, blah, blah. And the Sharpay redemption arc came out of nowhere entirely. And, wait a minute, wasn't there a Sharpay redemption arc which came out of nowhere entirely in the first movie too? A little continuity please? After acting like an irredemable jerk for the whole movie, there was absolutely no reason to believe she was going to turn around and start being nice. Absurdity! The problem is that the movie starts so absurdly slow that the ending redemption stuff has to be super rushed. About 45 minutes into the movie I was convinced this movie was a horrible bomb. The movie got much better as it goes along, but it took so long to get chugging that I wish they had cut a bunch of stuff off there and dedicated it to the redemption stuff at the end, which may well have allowed it to pack even more punch.
What bugs me, is that I think there might be a really nice message to make with a similar movie. The end of high school, planning for your future, all while trying to still have fun with your current friends and your current life. Planning a future completely separate from the life you've known and which may well tear you from your friends. It is a very scary and difficult time, and requires a tricky trade-off. I wish they had explored that more. Additionally, the idea that success comes at a price and success isn't worth it if you lose your friends and life along the way is a truly winning theme. I mean, lots of other movies use it, but it's a great theme in itself and I always like to see it showing up. I just don't think they displayed it well enough by what was happening onscreen.
All of this is not to say that this was a bad movie or that I did not enjoy it. I realize this post has been excessively negative, but there were several things to like about the movie. Ryan & Sharpay's parents were a hoot and I found them very funny. Lucas Grabeel as Ryan Evans was a particular highlight again. In fact, all of the actors and actresses in the movie, excepting Ashley Tisdale (and I still think it's mostly the writers at fault there) are skilled and do a nice job with the roles. They all have a winning charm, particularly Zac and Vanessa. The ending WAS emotional and a pleasure to watch. And, of course, the singing and dancing.
So what about the songs, which is the main reason to watch the movie in the first place? I though that on the whole the music was very fun, and about on par with the music of the first movie. "Gotta Go My Own Way", "Bet on It" (what an awful and bizarre dance sequence though!), "Everyday", and "You Are the Music in Me" were genuinely good songs. "You Are the Music in Me" and "Everyday" were written by Jamie Houston, who wrote "Breaking Free" in the first movie and has generally been hit and miss throughout his career. For example, apart from the High School Musical success, he has "Amigas Cheetas", a particularly mediocre Cheetas song, "Vertical", a mediocre Corbin Bleu song, and several mediocre Vanessa Ann Hudgens songs. But he knocks it out the park here. "Bet On It" was written by Antonina Armato and Tim James, who co-wrote half of the excellent Aly & AJ album and produced the whole thing, co-wrote many of the good Miley/Hannah season 2 tracks including "See You Again", and have generally owned music in 2007. What an outstanding year for them.
Final Review/Comments: The movie started out really, really slow but picked it up a lot at the end. Despite my many problems with it, the movie was better than I expected and I really enjoyed it, in no small part due to the music and dancing. On the whole it was definitely not as good as High School Musical but it was definitely worth a viewing and comes with my recommendation, contingent that you aren't expecting some kind of transcendent masterpiece. B MINUS.